Audi has put a new twist on an old idea and come up with what just might be a self-sustaining natural gas-powered car.
Dual fuel is not new. You can find ethanol, propane and compressed natural gas cars and trucks all over Canada.
Where the Audi A3 Sportback g-tron is different is it can use gasoline, compressed natural gas or what Audi calls e-gas.
The latter is a synthetic methane that Audi creates. It starts with two giant windmills in the North Sea owned by Audi.
Power from these goes to a purpose-built prototype plant where the electricity is used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen.
The oxygen is vented into the atmosphere while CO2 is added to the hydrogen during the “methanization” process in the plant, thus creating e-gas.
The e-gas can then be stored or added to the existing natural gas infrastructure much as solar panel owners add electricity to the grid.
The gas is stored onboard the A3 g-tron in two fibre-reinforced plastic tanks. Because they are GRP, they only add 32 kg to the overall weight of car.
But each tank can hold up to 14.4 kg of compressed e-gas for a range of 400 km. When the tanks are depleted, the driver switches over to gasoline.
With two sources, Audi engineers at the g-tron presentation earlier this year in Berlin estimated a range of up to 1,300 km.
The engine in the A3 g-tron is a 1.4-litre, turbocharged, direct fuel injected four-cylinder able to run on all three fuels.
Audi had a number of g-trons at its electrification symposium that also featured the A3 Sportback plug-in hybrid Audi will import in 2015 and the astounding R8 e-tron electric supercar.
The only visual difference on the A3 g-tron was the two fuel gauges and a switch to go from one fuel source to another.
Presumably, one would use natural gas as much as possible, saving gasoline as the backup fuel supply.
If you used only natural gas that was created by turbines, you would have sustainable transportation for as long as there is water and wind.
Through the streets of downtown Berlin I drove on natural gas alone, finding the acceleration of the line sluggish but the turbo quickly came into play with just a hint of lag.
When it came to punching the “gas” for a lane change, the 1.4-litre responded well.
All the premium materials Audi puts into their vehicles were unchanged in the g-tron, giving the interior that Audi panache.
The A3 g-tron goes on sale in Europe in 2014 but there are no plans to bring it to Canada at this time.
But with the proliferation of wind turbines in Ontario and the current oversupply of electricity, an e-gas facility or facilities makes for a compelling argument in favour.
Considering how much untapped gas we already have in this country (pardon the pun), the A3 g-tron is a natural.